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Hildegard of Bingen (1098–1179)


Hildegard of Bingen, the first German mystic, wrote profusely as a prophet, poet, dramatist, musician, physician, and political moralist. She was an extraordinary woman who exerted a tremendous temporal and spiritual influence on her time and who has been rediscovered since the 1960s.

Hildegard was born in Bockelheim, the diocese of Mainz, on the Nahe River. Her father, Hildebert, was a knight in the service of Count Meginhard of Spanheim. At six, she began to have religious visions that continued the rest of her life. At eight, she was entrusted to the care of Jutta, sister of Count Meginhard. The two lived in a small cottage adjoining the church abbey at Disibodenberg. A sickly child, Hildegard continued her education under Jutta, learning to read and sing Latin. At fifteen, she was clothed in the habit of a nun in Jutta's hermitage, a community following the Rule of St. Benedict. At thirty-eight, Hildegard became the abbess of the community.

Eventually, the archbishop of Mainz examined her visions with his theologians and ruled them divinely inspired, ordering Hildegard to record them in writing. From 1141 until 1151, she worked on her principal work, Scivias (May You Know, or Know the Ways ). In 1147, Pope Eugenius III and his commission examined her visions and also authorized her to write whatever the Holy Spirit inspired her to write. Her growing fame then caused Hildegard to transfer her convent from Disibodenberg to Rupertsberg, near Bingen, between 1147 and 1150. She continued living there until her death on September 17, 1179. She was buried in her convent church, where her relics remained until 1632, when the convent was destroyed by the Swedes and her relics moved to Eibingen.

A woman of an extraordinarily energetic and independent mind, Hildegard wrote voluminously. Scivias, the first of her three mystical works, develops her view on the universe, on the theory of macrocosm and microcosm, the structure of humans, birth, death, and the nature of the soul. It also treats the relations between God and humans in creation, the redemption, and the church. The last of the twenty-six visions of Scivias contains Ordo Virtutum, the earliest liturgical morality play.

Liber Vitae Meritorum (The Book of the Rewards of Life, 11581163) studies the weaknesses separating us from God. It is one of the most subtle, psychologically fascinating, and intense works ever written on the relationship of various sins to their corresponding virtues.

Liber Divinorum Operum Simplicis Hominis (The Book of the Divine Works of a Simple Man, 11631173), the third of Hildegard's mystical books, concerns itself with the unity of creation. Hildegard succeeds in synthesizing into one great whole her theological beliefs along with her knowledge of the elements of the universe and the structures within the human body. This work is often considered the epitome of science of her time.

Besides her three mystical books, Hildegard wrote a long physical treatise titled Physica: Subtilitatum Diversarum Naturarum Creaturarum (Physical Things: Of the Simplicities of Various Natural Creatures, 2001) and her book of medicine titled Causae et Curae (Causes and Cures, 1903). Although her theoretical knowledge of medicine seems crude today, large numbers of sick and suffering persons were brought to her for cures. A thriving clinic in Konstanz, Germany, practices Hildegard's remedies today.

In addition, Hildegard wrote Vita Sancti Disibodi (The Life of Saint Disibod ) and Vita Sancti Ruperti (The Life of Saint Rupert ). Her Solutiones Triginta Octo Quaestionum (Answers to Thirty-eight Questions ) comments on various theological and scriptural subjects. Her Explanatio Symboli Athanasii (Explanation of the Symbol of Saint Athanasius ) and Explanatio Regulae Sancti Benedicti (Explanation of the Rule of Saint Benedict ), written at the request of the Benedictine monastery of Huy in Belgium, are self-explanatory.

For the nuns of her convent, Hildegard wrote hymns and canticlesboth words and music. She collected her songs into a cycle titled Symphonia Armonie Celestium Revelationum (The Symphony of the Harmony of Heavenly Revelations ). These approximately seventy songs were written for a wide range of liturgical celebrations.

Finally, Hildegard wrote letters to popes, cardinals, bishops, abbots, kings and emperors, monks and nuns, men and women of various social levels both in Germany and abroad. Some of her letters are more personal, but the majority are mystical treatises, prophecies, sermons, and strong exhortations concerning various corruptions. Hildegard's clear intelligence foresaw that the ecclesiastical and political abuses of her time would ultimately burst into flames in some event such as the eventual Reformation or the Thirty Years' War. Hildegard represented a legacy to her own times, and now has been rediscovered in ours.

See also Macrocosm and Microcosm; Mysticism, History of; Women in the History of Philosophy.

Selected Bibliography

primary works

Barth, Pudentiana, Immaculata M. Ritscher, and Joseph Schmidt-Gorg, eds. Lieder: Nach den Handschrfiten herasugegeben. Salzburg: 1969.

Fuhrkotter, Adelgundis, ed. and tr. Briefwechsel: Nach den altesten Handschriften ubersetzt und nach den Quellen erlautert. Salzburg: 1965.

Fuhrkotter, Adelgundis, and Angela Carlevaris, eds. Scivias. Corpus Christianorum, Continuatio Medievalis 43. 2 vols. Turnhout: 1978.

Heilkunde: Das Buch von dem Grund und Wesen und der Heilung der Krankheiten; nach den Quellen ubersetzt und erlautert. Translated by Heinrich Schipperges. Salzburg: 1957.

Kaiser, Paul, ed. Hildegardis Causae et Curae. Leipzig: 1903.

Der Mensch in der Verantwortung: Das Buck der Lebensverdienste (Liber vitae meritorum): nach den Quellen ubersetzt und erlautert. Translated by Heinrich Schipperges. Salzburg: 1972.

Migne, J. P., ed. S. Hildegardis abbatissae Opera omnia. Patrologiae cursus completus, Ser. Lat. 197. Paris: 1882.

Naturkunde: Das Buck von dem inneren Wesen der verschiedenen Naturren in der Schopfung: nach den Quellen ubersetzt und erlautert. Translated by Peter Riethe. Salzburg: 1959.

Pitra, Joannes Baptista, ed. Analecta Sanctae Hildegardis Opera Spicilegio Solesmensi Parata. Analecta Sacra 8. 1882. Reprint. Farnborough, England: 1966.

Van Acker, Lieven, and Klaes-Hachmoller. Epistolarioum. Corpus Christianorum, Continuatio Medievalis 91, 91a, 91b. Turnhout: 1991, 1993, 2001.

Welt un Mensch: Das Buch "De operatione Dei": aus dem Genter Kodex ubersetzt unde erlautert. Translated by Heinrich Schipperges. Salzburg: 1965.

Wisse die Wege: Nach dem Orginialtext des illuminierten Rupertsberger Kodex der Wiesbaden Landesbibliotheck in Deutsche ubertragen und bearbeitet. Translated by Maura Bockecler. Salzburg: 1954.

printed bibliographies

Lauter, Werner. Hildegard-Bibliographie: Wegweiser zur Hidegard-Literatur. Alzey: 1970.

Lauter, Werner. Hildegard-Bibliographie: Wegweiser zur Hildegard-Literatur. Band II 197082. Alzey: 1984.

further references

Beer, Frances. Women and Mystical Experience in the Middle Ages. Suffolk, U.K.: Boydell, 1992.

Burnett, Charles, and Peter Dronke, eds. Hildegard of Bingen: The Context of Her Thought and Art. London: Warburg Institute, 1998.

Craine, Renate. Hildegard: Prophet of the Cosmic Christ. New York: Crossroad, 1997.

Davidson, Audrey Ekdahl, ed. The "Ordo Virtutum" of Hildegard of Bingen: Critical Studies. Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 1992.

Dronke, Peter. "The Composition of Hildegard of Bingen's Symphonia." Sacris Erudiri 19 (19691970): 381393.

Dronke, Peter. Women Writers of the Middle Ages. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1984.

Escot, Pozzi. "Gothic Cathedral and Hidden Geometry of St. Hildegard." Sonus 5 (1) (1984): 1431.

Escot, Pozzi. "Universal Proportion in Hildegard von Bingen." Sonus 11 (1990): 3340.

Flanagan, Sabina. Hildegard of Bingen, 10981179: A Visionary Life. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge, 1998.

Fox, Matthew. Hildegard of Bingen's Book of Divine Works with Letters and Songs. Sante Fe, NM: Bear, 1987.

Gies, Frances, and Joseph Gies. Women in the Middle Ages. New York: Perennial Library, 1986.

Grant, Barbara L. "A Feather on the Breath of God." Parabola 9 (2) (1984): 9496.

Grant, Barbara L. "Five Liturgical Songs by Hildegard von Bingen." Signs 5 (3) (1980): 564573.

Hozeski, Bruce W., tr. Hildegard of Bingen: The Book of the Rewards of Life (Liber Vitae Meritorum). New York, Oxford University Press, 1994.

Hozeski, Bruce W., tr. Hildegard's Healing Plants: From Her Medieval Classic Physica. Boston: Beacon, 2001.

Hozeski, Bruce W., tr. Scivias by Hildegard of Bingen. Santa Fe, NM: Bear, 1986.

Jeskalian, Barbara J. "Hildegard of Bingen, Her Times and Her Music." Anima (Fall 1983): 713.

King-Lenzmeier, Anne. Hildegard of Bingen: An Integrated Vision. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2001.

Kraft, Kent. "The German Visionary: Hildegard of Bingen." In Medieval Women Writers, edited by Katharina Wilson. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1984.

McInerney, Maud Burnett, ed. Hildegard of Bingen: A Book of Essays. Garland Medieval Casebooks. New York: Garland, 1998.

Newman, Barbara. "Hildegard of Bingen: Visions and Validation." Church History 54 (2) (1985): 163175.

Newman, Barbara. Sister of Wisdom: St. Hildegard's Theology of the Feminine. 2nd ed. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997.

Newman, Barbara. Voice of the Living Light: Hildegard of Bingen and Her World. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998.

Petroff, Elizabeth Alvilda. Medieval Women's Visionary Literature. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986.

Potter, Robert. "The Ordo Virtutum : Ancestor of the English Moralities?" Comparative Drama 20 (1986): 201210.

Sacks, Oliver. "The Visions of Hildegard." In The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986.

Schmitt, Miriam. "St. Hildegard of Bingen: Leven of God's Justice." Cistercian Studies 24 (1989): 6988.

Scholz, Berhard W. "Hildegard von Bingen on the Nature of Woman." The American Benedictine Review 31 (1980): 361383.

Steele, Francesca Maria. The Life and Visions of St. Hildegarde. St. Louis: B. Herder, 1915.

Bruce W. Hozeski (2005)

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